Treatment Options for Migraines That Work: Medication, Home Remedies, and More

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Migraines are a chronic neurological condition that cause severe headaches and other symptoms, including nausea and vomiting. They’re more than just a bad headache. Migraines can be extremely painful; episodes can last from four to 72 hours.

It is estimated that over one billion people experience migraines, making it the third most common illness worldwide. Interestingly, hormonal differences make women more likely to experience them than men. Fortunately, several effective treatment options for migraine relief are safe and appropriate for everyone, regardless of the severity.

When you have a migraine, the pain is usually throbbing, pulsing, or pounding. They also often include an aura — a visual disturbance or other sensory warning indicating a migraine’s onset. Other symptoms include:

  • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Extreme fatigue and weakness

The cause of migraines is not particularly defined. Migraines can be triggered by certain foods, stress, and lack of sleep. Some people have migraines so frequently that they may experience them several times each week or every day.

So, how do you treat or get instant relief for migraines? Migraines can be dealt with in various ways, and it is important to understand these methods while searching for effective treatment options for migraines.

Best medications for instant migraine relief

Migraine treatment options vary depending on the frequency, intensity, and duration of your migraine attacks. If you have just a few mild episodes each month, you may be able to manage your migraine with over-the-counter pain relievers. However, if your headaches are more frequent or severe, you may need prescription drugs and lifestyle changes to relieve your symptoms.

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Some medications that reduce the frequency and severity of migraines include:

  • Pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen). These medications work best if taken early in an attack.
  • Triptans are more helpful for women who get migraines during their periods. Triptans bound to the serotonin receptors and relieve the inflammation that causes migraines.
  • Ergots such as dihydroergotamine. Ergots are generally used only when other medications haven’t worked well at controlling severe migraine pain.
  • Gepants bind to the blood vessels and stop them from dilating, which makes them safer for people with heart disease. They can even be used as a preventive treatment when taken regularly.
  • Lasmiditan has been shown to be effective at treating migraines both with and without aura among patients with a high level of cardiovascular problems.
  • Anti-nausea drugs such as metoclopramide or prochlorperazine. These medications are usually given along with painkillers during a migraine attack to reduce nausea.

Many people with migraines try different medications and treatments. You should know that no one medication or treatment works for everyone, so it’s important to work with your doctor to find what works best for you.

A woman resting in a dark room as a way to treat a migraine

Sometimes, simple home remedies can help relieve pain when you get a migraine. For example, treatment for ocular migraines is a bit different since these types of headaches usually do not last long. So dropping everything you’re doing and resting your eyes immediately could help reduce the intensity of the pain.

5 Effective home treatments for migraine

Most migraine attacks can be prevented by avoiding the triggers that set off your migraines and by taking preventive medications. But if you don’t want to take prescription drugs or are seeking alternative treatments, there are many things you can do at home. Below are five effective home treatments for migraine.

1. Do a scalp massage

Massages to the scalp may help relieve tension in the neck and shoulders, where migraine pain is often prominent. To do this at home, rub your fingers along both sides of your head — starting at the top and working toward the ears — in a circular motion for about five minutes at a time. You can even use a small vibrating massager if you want more intense pressure.

2. Apply a cold compress

Cold compresses as a treatment for migraine can ease throbbing pain during a migraine attack. Place an ice pack on the back of your neck or forehead until it feels better.

But avoid applying ice on unprotected skin, wrap it in a towel or cloth first.

You may also want to apply an ice pack or cold compress to areas where you feel pain during a migraine attack, such as your temples or sinuses.

3. Sleep

Sleep is one of the most effective treatments for migraine. Sleeping between seven and nine hours a night reduces the risk of developing chronic migraines. Getting plenty of sleep is important if you’re experiencing migraines. Sleeping in a dark room may also help relieve symptoms. Here are some tips to help you sleep better:

  • Get more exercise during the day. Exercise can help you relax and sleep better at night.
  • Eat or drink only a little before bedtime. It’s best to avoid eating or drinking large meals at least two hours before bedtime so your digestive system doesn’t keep you awake at night.
  • Stop any activity at least 30 minutes before bed.
  • Try using earplugs or eye masks to block out light.

4. Rest in a dark room

This can be hard to do when the migraine has already started. You may be feeling nauseous or lightheaded, but it’s essential that you get some quiet time with your eyes closed. A dark room helps reduce the sensitivity of your eyes and the amount of light entering them. It also helps to relax your muscles and brain, allowing you to get some much-needed rest. Even the smallest amount of light can be painful when you experience a migraine.

5. Use essential oils for migraine

Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts that have been used for thousands of years to treat various ailments. They are one of the most sought-after alternative treatments for migraines. So, if you’re looking for an alternative treatment option, you could try essential oils. But note that there is not enough evidence to show that they are effective against migraines.

Diffusing essential oils for migraine

Essential oils do not come as oils from the source. They are extracted from flowers, plants, and herbs using cold pressing or steam distillation methods. The resulting liquid extract contains active ingredients that may help ease pain caused by migraines and headaches.

Essential oils can be used for instant relief of migraine naturally by inhaling the oil vapors or massaging them on your temples or forehead. They are believed to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and promote relaxation. You can use them in an aromatherapy diffuser or apply a few drops and massage them directly to your temples.

Here are some essential oils you can use for migraine:

  • Lavender oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Rosemary oil
  • Chamomile oil
  • Eucalyptus oil

Treatments for migraine prevention

The best way to prevent migraines is to identify the triggers for your symptoms and avoid them. For example, if you experience light sensitivity as a migraine trigger, you could wear sunglasses outside. If stress is one of your triggers, take time off from work or study until after your migraine has subsided.

Other preventive treatments include:

  1. Relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga can help you deal with stress. They may help reduce the number of attacks by helping you to relax before they occur.
  2. Acupuncture: Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine technique in which thin needles are inserted into the skin at certain migraine pressure points on your body. Although the evidence is limited, some studies have shown that acupuncture may reduce migraine frequency and severity.
  3. Exercise: Exercise is good for overall health; it keeps your blood flowing and can prevent stress, a known trigger for migraines.
  4. Drinking lots of fluids: Dehydration is a leading cause of migraines. Drinking water helps prevent the trigger.
  5. Preventive devices: Some can help reduce migraine headaches. They are worn like a headband, sending electrical pulses through the forehead to your trigeminal nerve to prevent migraines.

Can Botox injections prevent migraines?

Yes, Botox injections can be used to prevent migraines. Botox is made from a toxin produced by bacteria and injected into the skin to treat wrinkles and other aesthetic problems. It’s also used off-label as a migraine treatment.

Botox works by blocking signals from your nerves and paralyzing your muscles.

This is a good thing for treating migraines because when it blocks these signals, the pain that comes from a migraine is not processed by the brain, giving you relief.

Several botulinum toxins are used in cosmetic procedures. They all work the same way for migraines — blocking nerve impulses — but each has unique properties and side effects.

Botox for migraines usually includes 31 injections in various sites like:

  • Forehead
  • Temples
  • Back of the head

While Botox may be a good option for treating migraines (its effectiveness is still being studied), there are some risks and potential side effects, including:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Muscle weakness
  • Blurred vision
  • Drooping eyelids or facial paralysis (if injected near your eyes)
  • Headache or neck pain from poor injection technique (if improperly administered by an unqualified practitioner)

Bottom line

Now that you are more informed about the different treatments for migraines, you have a better idea of what your options are.

If your current treatment isn’t helping or if it’s causing side effects, consider speaking with your health care provider about finding other options that will work for you.

March 6, 2023